French curators gathered at the Emirates Palace hotel to discuss the ins and outs of the new Louvre outpost in Abu Dhabi.
So audiences have been granted their first glimpse of the concept behind Louvre Abu Dhabi, due for completion in 2013. At the Talking Art event hosted by the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) on Tuesday night, the director of the Musée du Louvre, Henri Loyrette, stipulated that the museum designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel would not merely imitate its venerable French namesake, but make its own way. "The project is unique," he said, "in that it does not attempt to duplicate the Louvre, but to create an entirely new museum."
The event saw several prominent members of Paris's curatorial scene come together to discuss different aspects of the museum, including the importance of cross-cultural links between civilisations and the provenance of art from across the globe. "Universalism" was the word of the hour - a concept which Loyrette described as "the engine behind the success of the Louvre". Works from five continents will be on display under one roof, he said, as an "initiative to show art in its global shape".
Jean-Luc Martinez, the curator of the department of Greek and Roman antiquities at the Musée du Louvre used the history of his own department to illustrate the links between the two civilisations and universalism. Using an image of a vast marble urn by the Athenian sculptor Sosibios from 50BC as a backdrop, he described how the piece had furnished the lavish Château de Versailles apartments of King Louis XIV. Having been sculpted at the time of the Roman domination, it came to form part of the Sun King's collection. In this way, the Greek, Roman and French cultures were, he said, interlinked. The Sosibios vase is on display in Gallery One of the Emirates Palace as part of a preview experience of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Béatrice André-Salvini, the curator of the department of oriental antiquities at the Musée du Louvre, described how pieces from the East were brought to France in the late 19th century, not to serve public curiosity, but for the advancement of science and knowledge. "Today, the department is founded on the same grounds," she added. One of the most illuminating points came from Yves Le Fur, the director of collections at the Musée du Quai Branly, who emphasised the importance of context when curating works of art from different civilisations. Using an image of one of the rooms in the museum which showed classical statues displayed alongside contemporary furniture, he explained that the Musée du Quai Branly had pioneered a new way of curating, whereby civilisations were decentralised. The museum, he said, "reshaped eclecticism and heritage by freeing the essence of these objects and giving them space. By exposing these objects to a different presentation and configuration, we have exposed these objects to a broader universal spirit." The Louvre Abu Dhabi will adopt a similar curatorial style, he added, where the objects' presentation will not just be about aesthetics but will "serve to shorten the distances between civilisations."
In addition, the Agence France-Muséums, a body comprised of 12 national institutions including the Musée du Louvre, the Centre Pompidou and the Musée d'Orsay, was established in July 2007 to manage the project from the French side. Laurence des Cars, the chief curator and scientific director of the group, conceded that "to embrace all aspects of universalism through history, knowledge, philosophy and art... will be a challenge." But she emphasised that the intercultural relationship worked both ways. "French institutions are helping Abu Dhabi to create a national institution... and we need to bring a new dynamic to the present French collections. It's a matter of shared experience."
Talking Art: Louvre Abu Dhabi is at Gallery One, Emirates Palace until July 2. Daily tours begin at 11am and 6.30pm. Places must be booked by calling 02 690 8207 or visiting www.artsabudhabi.com.